By Seema Chishti
Under-reported in recent times has been the fierce debate within the Muslim community on the wisdom of “defending” Islam. Several scholars have held there is no need to provide explanations. Any “defence” of the Book or the Word is in effect seen as a defensive move, and so, a tactless one, bound to complicate matters and implicate the Faith, eventually.
More than a decade before the attacks in New York, the emerging Samuel Huntington idea that a civilisational “clash” was central to all conflicts in the world did find supporters. But as the debate sharpened between the “free” world and the world of the “terrorists”, Muslim scholars of all hues knew what were absolutely the wrong things to do: entering the debate from a point in which one was offering clarifications about the faith — or telling those who don’t know that Islam is a religion of “peace” (Islam itself, literally stems from the root “salam”, or peace).
It is, however, precisely for this reason — for taking up the gauntlet of “defence” — that those like Pakistan-based scholar-cleric, Dr Muhammed Tahir-ul-Qadri deserve to be lauded. He has gone out and developed a large body of detailed notes from the Quran to denounce the view that many hold of some sort of link between Islam and those who claim to kill in its name.
Qadri takes on interesting questions ranging from the abstract — “Islam allows for the killing of people because of doctrinal differences” — to historical debates, as on the Kharijites. The Kharijites were a controversial sect that appeared during the lifetime of the Prophet, claiming to be truer and more pious believers, and waged a war against the Caliphs, claiming that they were better Muslims. It is the contention of scholars like Qadri and Reza Aslan that what is being seen as a battle on behalf of Islam against non-Muslims is in fact a battle within the faith, of claiming its true soul. The Kharijites are part of this larger battle as the fundamentalists or puritans of the 7th century, who fought other Muslims declaring themselves the sole faithful and others “worthy of death”.
This, is nowhere more visible perhaps, than in Pakistan, which, formed as it was as an “Islamic republic”, cannot seem to agree on a self-definition. Several competing ideas of identity — region, language, ethnicity and colonial leftovers, and then the Cold War — went on to shape and almost consume the region and confuse the picture totally on the place of Islam in the idea of Pakistan.
The Kharijites serve to make an important point about how those killing in the name of the Almighty are not up to anything new, but bearers of a medieval tradition that blighted Islam even when the Prophet was alive. There is much talk usually, of Muslims not saying “enough” or not being critical “enough” about ills amongst those who kill in the name of Islam, but the first fatwa against terror came on September 12, 2001, by Yusuf Qaradwi who quoted from the Quran emphasising that even one death “shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he has saved the life of all mankind” (5:32). In his discussion of fatwas on terrorism, Qadri quotes a discussion on two sets of documents, one (the “Amman message”) in 2004-05, and another in 2007, that emphasised the need for keeping the Faith distinct from what al-Qaeda’s tapes were keen on reducing it to.
While several other scholars have tried to draw a distinction between an innocent victim and a “more political” victim, Qadri in his 500-page recent work on anti-terrorism fatwas leaves no room for the theological masking of any act of violence as a legitimate tool or response. Combing the Quran for even a slender justification for violence as a response, Qadri finds none.
Yet while Qadri finds a resonance between the Kharijites and modern-day terrorists, it may be useful here to emphasise that these ideas are not frozen in time, but constantly adapting. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, for instance, currently, defines Pakistan as a bigger enemy than the US (or Israel or Christendom).
The problem is not so much that they are old and medieval — but that they are a frighteningly modern and adaptive idea. To quote from Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God; “these movements are not an archaic throwback to the past; they are modern, innovative and modernising. Protestant fundamentalists read the Bible in a literal, rational way, quite different from the more mystical allegorical approach of premodern spirituality... Muslim thinkers produced an anti-imperalism ideology that was in tune with other Third World movements of their times... [The ultra-orthodox Jews] who seemed to turn their backs on modern society ... adopted a novel stringency in their observance of the Torah, and learned to manipulate the political system in a way that brought them more power than any religious Jew had enjoyed for nearly two millennia.”
Source: The Indian Express